Saturday, September 08, 2007

ILIR's New Course

Editorial from ILIR Chairman Niall O'Dowd

September has arrived and Congress will soon be back in session after the summer break.

For the Irish undocumented the prospects of a major immigration bill being passed in the House or Senate in the new session are negligible.

That does not mean there will be no action on immigration issues however.

Issues such as the Dream Act which would give legal status to children who came here with their illegal parents and know no other society are being pushed strongly by advocates such as Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois.

Senator Diane Feinstein of California has also signaled that she will be trying to pass agricultural workers legislation that would allow legalization of those who pick and harvest the California crops. Other bills may also be in the offing.

They may include a slew of border-security first provisions, put forward by opportunistic Republicans,intent on making it as hard as possible for the issue to lose some of its undoubted heat and hostility which has characterized the debate.

Thankfully there are enough legislators of principle who will oppose any such draconian measures without a measure of relief for the undocumented as well. Perhaps the-border first legislators believe that they have sufficient numbers, especially with a difficult election year coming up, to pass some bill or other but it hardly seems likely.

The Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform has obviously taken a step back since the defeat of the comprehensive bill in early summer. The lobby however, has not been idle. There has been continuous discussion with senior figures in Congress, in the Irish government and elsewhere about what will be the best way forward.

The lobby has also just hired former Congressman Bruce Morrison, author of the Morrison visas bill and a long term expert on all aspects of immigration law, as their lobbyist in Washington.

While the days of the mass rallies and 3,000 people flooding Washington are over, the goodwill and contacts created by those lobby days are still there to be harvested.

Of course if you are illegal in a apartment in the Bronx, Dorchester, Sunset or Philadelphia,the news has been discouraging since the defeat of the comprehensive bill. However, it is important to note that ILIR has continued to work with other immigraition groups and has also taken stock of what is the best way for their community to proceed.

Obviously, the Irish government now becomes a major player. Given their high visibility and major access in Washington it could not be otherwise. The government of Bertie Ahern has taken a consistently strong stand on the issue of legalizing the Irish and the time has now come for all who are interested in achieving that goal to come together and work on an agreed formula.

There are certainly enough examples of countries who received fair treatement when they sought it from the American authorities. Chile, Australia and Nicaragua to name but three have worked well to further their own interests in the recent past. Ireland must look to such examples.

There is also the issue of access to Ireland for American workers, a reality that became apparent when over 6,000 Americans attended the Irish Voice/FAS jobs fair in Manhattan last year. The reality is that Americans want - and should have - access to work in Ireland in the same way that Irish want to have access to come and work here.

All in all the situation has been bleak for some months now, but there is a new possibility abroad that efforts can be made to solve the issue of the Irish undocumented. It will not be for want of trying from ILIR or we're sure the Irish government. Let's keep hope alive.

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